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Wolfenstein 3D (SNES) artwork

Wolfenstein 3D (SNES) review

"I didn’t fight monstrous demons in Wolfenstein 3D. Instead, I was confronted by soldiers dressed in tan, blue and white. Scattered through the castles and fortresses also are a few hordes of mutated rats and zombified soldiers. With the exception of the bosses, every foe in this game is the equal of Doom’s early-game cannon fodder."

Only a person truly addicted to first-person shooters could find anything resembling beauty in the SNES port of id Software’s Wolfenstein 3D. Sadly, I am one of those people.

I’d been muddling my way through this game, forcing myself to play a level or two every day for no reason other than my twisted sense of pride. I wasn’t enjoying the game -- I was enduring its flaws: the blurry graphics, generic enemies and bland settings. But then it happened.....

I was in the boss level of the fourth chapter, hunting down a being known as the Ubermutant (supposedly the prized creation of the previous chapter’s mad scientist boss). Unlike the previous three boss levels, this one actually had a little meat to it. While the others had been sparse in regular enemies (in some cases containing nothing but a series of empty rooms leading to the solitary boss), this stage almost felt like a regular level. That made me nervous. While none of the previous bosses had been overly difficult, that had been because I had been able to engage them in a pure one-on-one fight, making it child’s play to take them down with a hit-and-run strategy.

But what if the Ubermutant confronted me before I was ready? Would my attempts to outmaneuver him lead me into a hornet’s nest of generic soldiers? I had no delusions about my hero’s abilities. Sure, he was a hardy fellow who was more than capable of gunning down anyone foolish enough to cross his path, but if he was trapped between a multi-armed atrocity and a horde of lackeys, the only logical conclusion would be him being cut down in a spray of bullets.

Suddenly, this boss level became quite suspenseful. I held my breath before opening every door, not knowing if I would be confronted by nothing, a handful of weak foes or the Ubermutant itself. And when I finally emerged victorious, I breathed a sigh of relief and immediately started working on the fifth chapter out of anticipation of seeing if the Black Knight’s domain posed the same challenge. I was now intrigued by Wolfenstein 3D. I must say that both of the final two boss levels also were a joy to play through, creating a tense, claustrophobic environment in which any door might lead to a quick demise. Unfortunately, the remainder of the game was dull and depressing, which sort of negated those positive feelings.

Wolfenstein 3D was id Software’s precursor to Doom and was a heavy influence on that superior shooter. Under the player's control is a macho-looking soldier traveling through the six-fortress domain of an evil dictator (Hitler without Nazi symbols, at least in the SNES version). There is one ever-so-slight difference between this game and Doom, though. Doom was creative.

I didn’t fight monstrous demons in Wolfenstein 3D. Instead, I was confronted by soldiers dressed in tan, blue and white. Scattered through the castles and fortresses also are a few hordes of mutated rats and zombified soldiers. With the exception of the bosses, every foe is the equal of Doom’s early-game cannon fodder. Wolfenstein 3D also doesn’t have much in the way of weapons. My first weapon was a pistol that upgraded into a chain gun (good for weak foes). Also waiting to be found are a rocket launcher (good for bosses) and a flamethrower (good for when the other weapons are low on ammo). I guess id Software figured that if there only are five regular enemies, an impressive arsenal isn’t necessary to take care of business.

Having ready access to a quality eye-care professional might be a necessity, though. I don’t know if the SNES simply couldn’t handle this sort of game or if the designers were just looking to make a quick buck off porting a popular PC game, but Wolfenstein 3D is painful to look at. The graphics are fuzzy (especially when looking across large rooms) and foes are little more than jumbles of pixels. Since I’m used to playing games that have (at least) reasonably crisp graphics, I was appalled at how distorted everything appeared here. Personally, my eyes were bothered by having to stare at this game for any real amount of time -- one reason why it took so long for me to get through it.

But not as big of a reason as the lousy gameplay was. Obviously, with only a handful of enemies, Wolfenstein 3D was handicapped from the start as far as putting a quality experience together, but there were other problems on display, too. At times, I’d take damage from enemies I couldn’t even see because they apparently were able to shoot through corners and get me. Until the very end, there really weren’t even any clever ways to present enemies. A few of the final levels were riddled with alcoves concealing soldiers who would immediately assault my hero -- often before I was aware of anyone else’s presence. Those levels were the exception to the rule, though.

For the most part, it seemed stages in this game had me follow the same pattern of opening doors, gunning down enemies, crossing a room, opening the next door and so on. The only real danger spots were corners and it was child’s play to run up and then dash back. If I heard nothing, I’d continue. If I heard a soldier yell, I’d wait for him to show up and immediately bust a cap in him. Counting the three hidden stages, there are over 30 levels in Wolfenstein 3D. Guess how much fun I had repeating the same actions over and over through nearly each and every one of them.....

Virtually everything about Wolfenstein 3D seems to have been hurriedly and haphazardly designed. More than once while I played, I wondered how id Software could have rebounded to create my beloved Doom series. Games that featured innovative and unpredictable enemies in a variety of different settings. Games that weren’t afraid to shock players by having foes emerge from hidden passageways BEHIND their character. Games that essentially were everything Wolfenstein 3D was not. I have to admit that I found the final three boss levels to be exhilarating and suspenseful. The rest of the game? Absolutely forgettable.

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (November 10, 2005)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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